There may be 50 Ways to Lose a Lover, but there are about a bajillion ways to Lose It As a Parent, "It" being your temper, your cool, your sanity, your sense that you're a competent human being who can do this one small thing, which is to manage in some small, reasonable way the behavior of this small, unreasonable person who lives under your roof and says unreasonably unreasonable things like, "It's so unfair that parents get to have all the fun and KIDS HAVE TO DO ALL THE WORK!" This, after you've racked up a sleep deficit of roughly 3,479 hours, after you've shopped for all the groceries and cooked all the meals and prepared all the snacks and wiped the bottoms and done all the laundry and swept up all the god-knows-what-it-is and sponged up all the sticky marks on the furniture and floors and the ceiling and paid the bills and picked up the coats and the hats and the socks and the underwear-with-the-stripes and taken the temperatures and wiped the fevered temples and smeared medicine on the impetigo and the eczema and the cuts and the pink eye –after you've CAUGHT THE DAMN PINK EYE – after you've put up with thousands of tantrums, NOT THAT YOU'RE BITTER, OR ANYTHING, for four good years.
So here's one way to lose it. Start by running around desperately on a Thursday morning, trying to make the lunches and dress the kids and get into their small bodies some food that isn't Popsicles. Ignore the millionth plea to have Popsicles for breakfast. Resist the urge to stop and stare at your child incredulously, to waste time wondering, Why in God's name do you still ask me for Popsicles for breakfast? I've NEVER ONCE agreed to Popsicles for breakfast!
Notice frost everywhere on the 25-minute commute to your first-grader's school. When your daughter begs for the umpteenth time for you to let her walk into the school by herself, give in. When she pauses at the door and waves you proudly, smile and wave back, feel good about giving her more responsibility, watch to make sure she gets in safely, then drive away. Five minutes from home, turn on the radio and learn that all the schools are closed due to weather. Look at the clear roads; wonder what the hell is going on. Panic. Picture your first-grader hitchhiking back to your house. Race home and call the school. Feel your cheeks warm as the administrator tells you that yes, the school is closed but your daughter is safe in the office, and perhaps this is one of the reasons it's a good idea not to let the children walk into the school by themselves.
Tell your husband, packed and standing at the front door so you can drive him to the airport for his business trip, that you have to go back and pick up your daughter. Drive 25 minutes back to the school, where you're told that your daughter has to go home, then 25 minutes back home to pick up your husband. Barely get your husband to the airport on time. Learn from your daughter the next day that all the kids who showed up after you left got to stay for the rest of the day.
Spend the subsequent three-day weekend acting as both mom and dad while your husband is in Texas. Learn that your husband may get snowed in, in Texas. Feel your sanity slipping out of your head, one thin grain at a time. Look forward to Tuesday morning, OH, BLESSED TUESDAY MORNING!, when school is open again, when you will have a few minutes to yourself, when you will wrap your shaking hands around a latte that some kind soul make FOR YOU, a few minutes in which to coax your skittish mind, like a nervous little squirrel, back into your head for another day.
On Tuesday morning, wake up to fresh snow. Check the news updates every three minutes to make sure there's school. Nearly weep from relief that everything's on schedule. At 8:10 a.m., as you're on the way out the door, get a call from your friend, telling you that school was just canceled. Spend much of the day letting your children veg out on TV, because it keeps them out of your hair, and you don't know if you can take it anymore. Pray that there will be school tomorrow, because all the good food is running out and you can't take one more tantrum over the fact that there is no more applesauce in the house. And the kids aren't taking it so well, either. On Tuesday night, learn that school is canceled the next day. Try to plan meals that don't involve milk or meat or bread or anything that doesn't come in a can. Count the hours, then later the minutes, until your husband's return.
On Wednesday, feel ashamed of how cranky you've gotten, of the fact that for the first time ever, you told your daughter to "Shut up," simply because you can't take it anymore. Explain to your daughter that you're sorry, that saying that was wrong, that you should never have said it, and she should never say it, either. After you pick up your husband at the airport, go to Elmer's Pancake House for dinner with the family, where your daughter will loudly announce to all the nice little old people that you told her to "Shut up."
That night, roughly 50 minutes after falling into a badly needed sleep, wake up to your son's croupy cough. Give him medicine and tuck him into your bed, next to you. Just as you are dropping off again, hear him gag. Cup your hands as he vomits half-digested Elmer's spaghetti and meatballs into the trough made from your fingers to forearms. Wake husband. Spend 40 minutes cleaning up child, bed, and self. Discover that one of your other children has wet the bed. Repeat cycle. Fifteen minutes after everyone is back in bed, awaken to first child vomiting in the hall. Again. When it's all over, find yourself unable to go back to sleep.
How do you nearly lose it as a dad? Come home to all this.